A lesson for Nevada GOP: Amid a specious election audit, Arizona Republicans fight back against Trump’s Big Lie

Nevada Republicans remain tangled in their Trumpian conspiracies about the Big Lie that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was manipulated by massive voter fraud.

Although they’ve shown no signs of pulling out of their spiral into irrelevance, they only need look to neighboring Arizona for signs that there’s hope after Trumpism. In Maricopa County GOP officials are showing real character by fighting back against the know-nothing Trump zombies who finagled a “fraudit” of the 2020 presidential election results, which two previous audits already have reaffirmed Joe Biden’s slender, 10,000-vote victory. In response to the glorified voodoo being practiced in the name of the Big Lie, Republican County Recorder Stephen Richer called Trump’s recent deceptions about Arizona’s election “unhinged” and added, “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country.”

If Nevada GOP officials were willing to listen, they would hear former lifelong Republican and two-term Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods explain how the rampant political cowardice that accompanied Trump’s rise drove him from the party and today threatens its very existence.

Woods was then-Congressman John McCain’s first chief of staff and served as Arizona’s AG throughout the 1990s. He was so alarmed about Trump’s effect on his own party that he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, the only former Republican state attorney general to do so, and left the GOP entirely two years later.

In an interview this week, he sounded almost wistful as he recalled the core values of the party that it traded away for Trump’s magic beans.

“I’ve believed that people were sincere in what they talked about,” Woods said. “That was basic conservative principles, that there was a role for government, there was an important role, but it was a limited role that would allow for people to also live their lives in freedom.”

That freedom allowed for differences of opinion and even had room for Tea Party true-believers and religious zealots.

“But what we’ve seen lately, since Donald Trump arrived on the scene, is that those issues no longer really matter and the principles apparently were fake,” Woods said. “These people really didn’t believe in those things, or they couldn’t have supported Donald Trump and continue to support him because he doesn’t believe in any of those things. He’s basically an authoritarian and an isolationist, and that’s antithetical to what the Republican Party used to be for and was supposed to be for. So, the reason I left the party was not because of Trump. It was because the enablement of Trump by virtually all of the rest of the Republican Party.”

That nutty fealty has manifested itself in the current hare-brained audit, which Woods has chided as “a clown show.” But its effect on the weak-spined Arizona GOP has been palpable. Its key leaders in Maricopa County have joined Woods and party icons former Sen. Jeff Flake, Cindy McCain, former Gov. Jan Brewer and others in calling out the Trumpian grifters.

“We see little glimmers of hope in the Republican Party,” Woods said. “It’s beginning, I think, when you have people like Liz Cheney taking the stand that she’s taken. Here in Maricopa County in Arizona all of the Republican officials just about as of yesterday have called out the fraudulent nature of this so-called election audit and stood up to these people. It’s long overdue, but I’m glad to see it starting to happen. We’ll see how far it goes.”

The GOP leadership in Maricopa has been particularly courageous given the personal stakes. Their political careers could hang in the balance.

“These are all current officeholders who are catching the ire of the Kool-Aid drinkers who now control the Republican Party,” he said. “This is not something they’re doing lightly. This will have ramifications. They’ll probably face recalls. They’ll face primaries. Many of them have futures where they could run statewide, and that’s going to be difficult. I do think it’s a big start here.”

The same moment of truth will be needed in Nevada, where the state Republican Party has shown zero interest in entering MAGA rehab. Woods looked askance at the post-election meddling of former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Utah AG Sean Reyes in challenging Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and the results of the Silver State’s 2020 election.

“In Nevada, the attorney general there I think has been excellent at not backing down a bit, ever,” Woods said. “Whereas, frankly, if you would have had your previous attorney general, he would have gone along. And he did something in the election that just showed how things have changed. When I was attorney general through all of the ‘90s, we were very nonpartisan. We were kind of the last group of elected officials that really didn’t care that much about party. Because the law is supposed to be independent of that. That’s how we looked at it. … This last election, Laxalt showed up with the Utah attorney general criticizing Attorney General Ford and making up allegations about fraud and other things, and then avoiding the press and scurrying out of town. That was disgraceful. ... But that’s where we’re at now. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about winning. If that means trying to take away people’s freedom to vote, then that’s what they’re trying to do.”

The challenge is breaking the news to the MAGA masses who, like carnival rubes, refuse to believe they’ve been taken to the cleaners.

“The problem is for all of my life in the Republican Party there has been a fringe element that was just completely whacky, but you could pretty much ignore them or push them to the side because they were small in numbers and nonsensical,” Woods said. “They are now clearly in charge, not just in Arizona but across the country. And that’s a big problem. They’re fact-free and that makes it very difficult to reason with them. I don’t know that it’s possible. Like I said I think first you’re going to have to just defeat them.”

Someone in the Nevada GOP needs to wake up and follow Arizona’s lead.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.